MILWAUKEE -- Mayor Tom Barrett on Sunday, Feb. 18 slammed a plan to shake up Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission as an "all-out assault" on the city.
Barrett spoke out during a rare weekend news conference at City Hall two days before the state Assembly is scheduled to vote on the bill. The legislation would give the police and fire unions some control over who gets on the FPC, and it would force the city to pay police officers and firefighters under disciplinary review.
"Why is the state Assembly once again attacking the City of Milwaukee?" Barrett said.
With interim Police Chief Alfonso Morales and FPC Chairman Steve DeVougas beside him, Barrett said Republican lawmakers were too willing to listen to the Milwaukee Police Association, which is fighting for the changes.
Just two days after being sworn in, Morales split with the union and and said the bill would do damage to the public's trust in the Milwaukee Police and cost the city money.
State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said it "probably wasn't a good idea" for Morales to take a controversial position so early in his tenure as interim chief. Wanggaard said the mayor's news conference shows he's desperate to keep control over the Fire and Police Commission.
"Here's the mayor trying to support his own position that he wants to have power and ultimate influence over the commission. He doesn't have that," Wanggaard said in an interview.
Barrett said the city would spend $1 million a year paying officers or firefighters who are under disciplinary review if the bill passes. As examples, he rattled off six former police officers and firefighters found to have either assaulted a man, punched a handcuffed woman, possessed child pornography or committed fraud.
"The guts of this bill are requiring people to pay people who are bad actors. We do not want to pay bad actors," Barrett said.
Wanggaard said the mayor's $1 million figure was inflated because he included a case that took years to settle. Wanggaard said his legislation would stop pay after a disciplinary hearing or 120 days, whichever comes sooner. He said the officer or firefighter would not continue to get paid if he or she requested an extension of the case.
"Everybody's still innocent until proven guilty," Wanggaard said.
The Milwaukee police union, which has regularly sparred with Barrett for years, told lawmakers during an early February committee hearing that the bill would create fairness for officers. The legislation would require the mayor to pick one former officer and one former firefighter to serve on the commission from a list of names produced by the respective unions.
"What are (Barrett and his administration) afraid of?" asked Wanggaard, who previously held a seat on Racine's police and fire commission.
"It's obvious who they're talking to. They're talking to the union that represents the police department primarily. That's where this is coming from," Barrett said.
Wanggaard and other Republican co-authors introduced the bill last fall. Earlier this month, Barrett responded by appointing two people with police or fire experience to replace departing members of the Fire and Police Commission.
Barrett's appointees are awaiting Milwaukee Common Council approval, but Wanggaard said they would still be the mayor's choices.
"He's sat down and he's said, 'wait, quick -- I'll appoint a fireman and a policeman that I want, so we're good to go.' I've got a news flash: that's not acceptable," Wanggaard said.
If the bill passes the Assembly, it would still need approval in the Senate.